Superior Donuts is sugary sweet

Superior acting overtakes a sometimes saccharine plotline

Superior Donuts may be a comedy, but the highly emotional and deeply moving acting of the cast is a sweet surprise, like the filling inside a jelly donut. And although there are a few too-sugary plotlines, the solid casting and spot-on acting more than make Superior Donuts worth seeing.

Playwright Tracy Letts’s Superior Donuts is the story of Arthur, a donut shop owner in uptown Chicago who is marred by his past and has no hope for the future. His life is turned upside-down when an enthusiastic yet troubled teenager, Franco, takes a job in his shop and an improbable friendship emerges.

Randy Neale as Arthur is inspiring to watch. He is beautifully restrained as a man who has lost his family and his sense of passion for life. Neale has a Dustin Hoffman-like quiet lovability that is the perfect foil for Michael Smallwood’s Franco. Smallwood is charming and irresistible in a role that combines a plucky jokester with an unlucky college drop-out. Together, they make a lovable father/son-like duo.

The other cast member who truly shines is Rodney Lee Rogers as Max, the Russian video store owner and overzealous friend of Arthur. Rogers is hilarious and charismatic with an accent that seemed flawless to these ears. Co-stars Rob Maniscalco and Terry Shildcrout are also standouts as, respectively, Luther the bookie and the older, nutty-yet-caring customer Lady.

The script itself is rife with clever one-liners and hilarious bits, but at times its saccharine scenes play out predictably and are marred by sappy music, and halfway through the show, you know exactly how the play will end. But, like a lot of feel-good movies, the fun Superior Donuts will leave you no worse for the wear.

The set is realistic. There is a retro counter and stool set with all the necessary donut-shop items behind it, from a stack of cups and plates to a coffee machine. A couple of tables and chairs, donut rack, specials board and painted walls complete the set. Don’t let the bright red “pussy” spray-painted across the wall as the play opens turn you off; there’s very little crudity in the show.

Indeed, the small space made the play feel all the more real. The cramped theatre allows for audience members to experience full immersion, especially if you snag a seat near the front. You’ll see the actors take bites of the fresh donuts and enjoy steaming cups of coffee. Even Arthur’s writing is legible from the front row. But it’s the fight between Arthur and Luther that appears the most realistic, even for those sitting up front.

Despite the predictable outcome, Superior Donuts is endlessly enjoyable, witty, and moving. The chemistry of the cast that makes it what it is, so be sure to catch this performance while you can. And since you’re no doubt expecting a donut pun: don’t be surprised if you feel like seeing Superior Donuts a baker’s dozen times.

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